How to Recognize the Good Stuff—Keeping Gratitude in Our Lives
Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
Such a simple thing to say (or think), but it’s so important.
Having gratitude in our lives results in a range of benefits—both individually and from the perspective of society. The act of acknowledging the good things in our lives, and the fact that we are grateful for them, adds meaning to our lives in many ways. It allows us to keep a healthy perspective when we might have otherwise wallowed in our negative emotions and our interpretations of the unfortunate or unfair aspects of our lives.
A sense of gratitude helps us to interact with others in a healthy way. It helps us avoid a “me first” attitude or a sense of entitlement by acknowledging the source of our good fortune, happy feelings, meaning, and fulfillment.
Acknowledgment of the Positive Aspects of Our Lives
First and foremost, gratitude is an acknowledgment. It’s an acknowledgment of a person, an event, a condition, a relationship—really anything in our lives that contributed toward making our lives better in some way. Additionally, it’s an acknowledgment of how it came to be there (that’s where the “thank you” comes in).
The simple act of acknowledgment may take the form of an intentional thought, a positive shift in perspective, or an improved outlook. It may be simple and short-lived, or it may be a long-lasting or permanent awareness of a positive aspect of our lives. But however it manifests, it’s a critical step in the process of gratitude.
Gratitude as an Action
Everyone has someone to be grateful to. Even if we’re self-made, there are always people in our lives who deserve our gratitude. These might include those who contributed to the positive aspects of our lives (people who support us, like friends and family), those on the receiving end of what we create or produce (our customers or fans), or those who influenced us or taught us. There would never be a situation where someone experiencing something positive wouldn’t have someone they should be grateful to.
We see many examples of this in our everyday lives, such as the person holding the door for us or helping us pick up dropped groceries, the waiter who is bringing our food, or the mechanic who keeps our cars running. We also experience significant events that we should be grateful for, such as everything our parents did for us, everything our spouses or significant others give us, our long-term friendships, and our health and happiness. All of these aspects of our lives are intertwined with the contributions or influence of others. Acknowledging those connections makes those relationships stronger and gives us a healthy perspective on our good fortune.
Gratitude as Part of Our Internal Dialogue—Grateful to Ourselves
We should also be grateful to ourselves. Of all the relationships we have established, it is often the one with ourselves that we pay the least attention to. It is often ourselves that we are hardest on. Self-gratitude can be a weird concept, and it can be easily confused with pride. Gratitude toward ourselves is very similar to gratitude toward others—it is in response to something we did that made our lives better, that resulted in something that gave us meaning or made us happy. For example, when we exercise or eat better, we feel better, and we have more energy. Being thankful for our own efforts is a healthy response to that effort.
Self-gratitude, like any internal dialogue, requires great awareness to understand its nature and to direct it where you would like it to go. It’s often the case that we take for granted the things we do for ourselves and focus on the negatives. For example, when I became more aware of my self-dialogue, I noticed that I would regularly call myself an idiot when I did the simplest thing wrong. I was extremely hard on myself (see Finding Your Essential Self). I’ve recently tried to not only be more aware of my internal dialogue but make it more healthy and positive. This includes self-gratitude.
Gratitude Pushes Out Negative Emotions
Making a point of intentional gratitude has an added benefit of pushing out negative or harmful emotions by leaving less room for them. If our hearts are full of gratitude and the breadth of positive-associated emotions—happiness, excitement, and elation—little room is left for negative emotions. Additionally, feeling and expressing gratitude lengthens your journey toward feeling negative emotions. Rather than going from neutral to negative, we are starting from a solidly positive place, a place that’s harder to negatively influence—a place of serenity and peace.
Gratitude Would Remove Privilege or Sense of Entitlement
If we ever get too far down the road of thinking we have our good fortune because we deserve it—that we’re entitled to it—a healthy dose of gratitude can help remind us of the others in the world who helped us get to where we are. When we work very hard for something and we achieve it, we should feel proud (see Pride), but we should also remember all of those who helped us along the way. No one walks their path alone, and as was mentioned earlier, everyone has someone to be grateful to.
When we have gratitude in our lives, we will have a stronger tendency to spread our good fortune around—to avoid being selfish because we feel we are entitled to the good things in our lives. When we remember those whom we are lucky enough to have in our lives who contribute to our happiness or success in some way, we will be more likely to help out those who are not so fortunate to have similar people and circumstances in their lives.
If we open our eyes and hearts, we will find much to be grateful for.